By Julie M. Smith
This is excerpted from The Gospel according to Mark. It includes the New Rendition, Notes, and Analysis.
17 Now as he went forth on the way, a man having run up to him and having knelt down, asked him, “Good teacher, what should I do so that I might inherit eternal life?” 18 But Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not give false testimony. Do not defraud. Respect your father and mother.’” 20 But he said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have strictly obeyed from my youth.” 21 But Jesus, having looked at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing of yours is lacking: go, as much as you have—sell, and give [the money] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” 22 But he, his face falling at this saying, went away grieving, for he was one who had many possessions.
23 And having looked around, Jesus says to his disciples, “How hard it is for those having riches to enter into the kingdom of God!” 24 But the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus again answering says to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God. 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of heaven.” 26 But they were extremely astonished, saying to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus, having looked at them, says, “With mortals it is impossible, but not with God. Indeed, all things are possible with God.”
28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left all things and are following you.” 29 Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or land for my sake and for the good news 30 who will not take a hundred times as much now in this time—homes and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and land, with persecution—and in the age which is coming, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
10:17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?: The man’s question relies on some problematic assumptions:
- Whether it is appropriate to call Jesus “good” (see the next verse).
- Whether eternal life requires certain actions in order to “inherit” This idea does not mesh well with Jesus’ teachings about receiving the kingdom as a child. The question is also somewhat self-contradictory since one normally does not need to do anything in order to receive an inheritance.
Neither the man’s wealth (which Mark’s audience will not learn about until the very end of the story) nor his commandment-keeping has left him feeling secure about his prospects for eternal life; this is especially significant if the man’s statement that he has kept all of the commandments (see 10:20) is accepted as accurate.
10:18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good?: The word “me” is emphatic here.
Jesus’ refusal to accept being called “good” can be difficult to under- stand; possible interpretations include:
- The man may have called Jesus “good” in order to obligate Jesus to address him with a similarly flattering Jesus’ refusal to accept being called “good” thus signals his unwillingness to engage in mutual flattery, despite social convention.
- Many HB texts praise God as good (1 16:34; 2 Chr. 5:13; Ps. 100:5; 106:1; 107:1; 136:1). Perhaps Jesus was not willing to permit this man to lavish praise on him that properly belongs only to God. Jesus may be, in a hyperbolic way, shifting the glory from himself to God as a way to highlight God’s glory. If this is the best reading, it is a departure from the frequent tendency in Mark to place Jesus in narrative roles where he is identified with the God of the HB; perhaps it is the case that the narrative can reveal Jesus’ role as God but the discourse cannot.
- Jesus’ refusal to be called “good” may indicate his refusal to identify with the privileged members of the household; the point would be that God alone is good while all others are equal.
there is none good but one, that is, God: Jesus’ statement opens up some distance between himself and God and thus could be weighed in later debates regarding the nature of the relationship between Jesus and God, although this is not Mark’s concern here.
10:19 Thou knowest the commandments: Focusing on the Ten Commandments is interesting in light of 10:1–12, where Jesus downplayed the law of Moses in favor of the creation ordinances.
Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness: Jesus recites the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth commandments, following the Hebrew order.
Defraud not: This phrase appears to have been in the earliest manuscripts but was omitted by some later scribes, probably because they realized that “defraud not” did not belong to a listing of the Ten Commandments. And surely the audience would have expected a reference to the tenth commandment, which prohibited coveting, here. But instead Jesus violates their expectations with the command not to defraud. Why does Jesus mention defrauding in a manner designed for maximum audience impact? Perhaps because “the command, ‘You shall not defraud,’ would have immediately elicited in the minds of Jesus’ listeners the whole constellation of images which associated elite wealth with greed, land acquisition, and the abuse of day laborers.” While Mark’s audience has not yet been informed of it, this man is wealthy. So the reference to defrauding is most appropriate to his personal situation and speaks to Jesus’ prophetic gifts. (It may also reflect the commandments in Lev. 19:13 and/or Deut. 24:14– 15.) In the economic reality of Jesus’ time, there was no path to wealth except to defraud others: “In the localized zero-sum economy of agrarian Palestine, there was little chance one could become rich without having defrauded people along the way.” Also, through the act of altering the list of the Ten Commandments in order to reflect the personal situation of his interlocutor, Jesus makes clear his own relationship to the law.
Honour thy father and mother: Jesus returns to the Ten Commandments but presents the fifth commandment out of order. It is not clear why Jesus mentions this commandment last; it may be because it is the only commandment with a promise attached, and that promise is long life (Ex. 20:12), which is related—at least tangentially—to the man’s question about eternal life. It is also possible that the man’s wealth may have pro- vided special temptations for not honoring parents, perhaps through a vow of corban (see the Notes on 7:11).
10:20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth: There are two different approaches to the man’s answer:
- He is Otherwise, it would be hard to explain why Jesus loved him in the next verse. Also, he now addresses Jesus as “teacher” (KJV: “master”) instead of “good teacher,” so he is teachable and willing to accommodate his behavior to Jesus’ request.
- He had not kept all of the commandments, although perhaps he didn’t realize it.
While this character is often called “the rich young man,” Mark does not present him as young, as the phrase “from my youth” indicates.
10:21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him: There is a good chance, based on context and language, that “loved” includes a physical gesture such as hugging or putting his arm around him.
One thing thou lackest: There is an interesting irony here: despite all of his riches, he lacks something.
go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor: Because the word “go” is common in healing stories, it hints that the man’s possessions are like a disease from which he must be liberated.
In some strains of Jewish thought, selling everything was forbidden because it would make the giver dependent upon others.
and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: The language here is not coincidental: the man has to give up his treasures on earth in order to get treasures in heaven.
It would have been nearly impossible to become wealthy without collaborating with Rome, so Jesus is inviting this man to focus on a different kingdom.
and come, take up the cross, and follow me: The phrase “take up the cross” is not in the best ancient manuscripts.
The invitation to follow Jesus is the same invitation extended to the other disciples, supporting the reading that this is also a call story, distinctive as the only call that is refused.
10:22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: Without saying a word, the man’s face falls and he walks away. His reaction contrasts to Jesus, who looked at him and loved him; he shows his lack of love for Jesus by being unwilling to follow him. He is, as a wealthy man who attempts to engage in mutual flattery, the opposite of the child who welcomes the kingdom.
for he had great possessions: Possessions would include land and property.
Relationship to Malachi 3. In Malachi 3, the Lord is on the way to the temple to examine its corruption, as Jesus is “on the way” to the temple in Mark’s text. Malachi asks who will be able to stand when the Lord comes, which means that the rich man’s kneeling in this text could be read as a narrative signal that the man cannot “stand” in the Lord’s presence, as his unwillingness to divest of his possessions indicates. An allusion to Malachi might help explain Jesus’ puzzling objection to calling him good, since in Malachi, apparently innocuous questions weary the Lord (see Mal. 2:17).104 A close link between the two texts comes with Malachi 3:5, which in the LXX uses the same Greek word for “defraud” (KJV: “oppress”) as is found in 10:19. If Mark’s audience caught an allusion to Malachi 3:5 in Jesus’ mention of not defrauding, they likely would have presumed that this man was guilty of oppressing his employees by withholding wages or by paying unfair wages. Another verbal link exists with the word “observed” (10:20), which is also found in LXX Malachi 3:7 (KJV: “kept”): in Mark, the rich man insists that he has observed the commandments, but the link to the Malachi texts suggests that the Lord’s complaint is that he has not, in fact, done so. Further, Jesus’ reference to “treasures in heaven” (10:21) echoes Malachi 3:10’s use of “treasure” (KJV: “storehouse” or treasury) and “heaven.” But the rich man rejects Jesus’ offer, just as the audience rejects the Lord’s offer in Malachi. The reference to Jesus’ love for the man echoes the “theme of God’s covenantal love for unfaithful Israel [that] underlies the entire book of Malachi.” These allusions to the Malachi text would place Jesus in the narrative role of the God of the HB.
10:23 And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!: The Greek text permits the possibility that the wealthy can enter the kingdom.
The discussion of entering the kingdom relates this scene to the previous one, which couched receiving the kingdom in terms of receiving a child.
Interpretation of this teaching hinges on whether the man’s statement that he had kept all of the commandments is accepted as accurate. If he had kept them, then the point is clear: keeping the commandments while refusing to follow Jesus does not permit eternal life.
10:24 And the disciples were astonished at his words: The disciples’ astonishment is explained by the idea in the HB that wealth is a bless- ing from God (Gen. 24:35; 26:12–14; 33:11; Lev. 26:3–10; Ps. 112:3). Their
assumption would likely have been that only the righteous were blessed with wealth, so the wealthy would be the ones most likely to enter the king- dom. Thus, for Jesus to say that it was extremely difficult for the wealthy to enter the kingdom would be difficult to comprehend.
But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!: The oldest manuscripts omit the phrase “for them that trust in riches,” so that Jesus is saying that it is hard for everyone to enter the kingdom of God. The modifying phrase appears to have been added to soften Jesus’ statement or to make it more specifically relevant to the immediate situation. But 10:26 requires a blanket statement before it in order to make sense; other- wise, the answer to 10:26 would have been obvious: anyone who was not wealthy could enter the kingdom. On the other hand, it is possible that the phrase might have been present initially; the disciples’ astonishment in the next phrase would be understandable in terms of their belief that the wealthy were blessed. So, if the wealthy, the most blessed of people, could not enter the kingdom of God, that would indeed be surprising.
10:25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle: Some of the later manuscripts have the word kamilon (“rope”) instead of kamelon (“camel”). The change to rope was probably made because the image of a camel going through a needle’s eye seemed bizarre or impossible. Given how similar the two words are in Greek, it is also possible that the change happened accidentally.
A camel was the largest animal in Palestine at the time and the eye of a needle was the smallest opening with which they would have been familiar. Thus, the image plays on the reputation of camels and needles as the most extreme members of their respective classes in order to emphasize the impossibility of the situation. Further, camels were beasts of burden, weighed down by many “possessions,” and thus the ideal symbol for the wealthy man who refuses to put down his own possessions.
than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God: Both 10:23 and 24 make the point that it was extremely difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom; this verse suggests that it is impossible. Embedded within Jesus’ teaching is the assumption that human effort—even keeping all of the commandments, as the rich man had done—is insufficient to enter the kingdom of God. This explains why the man needed to follow Jesus; it also hints at the need for Jesus’ ministry.
10:26 And they were astonished out of measure, saying among them- selves, Who then can be saved?: The disciples, operating under the influence of HB teachings that equated riches with God’s blessings, cannot understand how anyone can be saved if the wealthy cannot be.
10:27 And Jesus looking upon them saith: The reference to Jesus looking is the third and final reference to his gaze in this passage (see also 10:21 and 23). Symbolically, Mark may be suggesting that Jesus’ viewpoint should be an object of focus and that it is, as the previous verse made clear, significantly different from the viewpoint of others in this story.
With men it is impossible, but not with God, for with God all things are possible: Once again, the idea that humans—wealthy or otherwise—can enter the kingdom on their own merit is debunked. A subtle indication of the need for an atonement is suggested here.
Relationship to Genesis 18. In Genesis 18:14, the Lord rhetorically asks Abraham if anything is impossible for the Lord in reference to the idea of Sarah having a child at an advanced age. Jesus’ use of similar language in Mark would indicate that he is fulfilling the same narrative role as the Lord. Further, the passage compares God’s ability to welcome someone into the kingdom of heaven with Sarah’s ability to bear a child. This feminized metaphor for God’s welcoming meshes well with Mark’s frequent concern with showing women as full participants in Jesus’ ministry.
10:28 Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee: “All” in this verse translates the same Greek word that Jesus used for “all things” in the last verse, suggesting that Peter is making a link between his own actions and God’s.
Peter seems to be reenacting the approach of the wealthy man (who called Jesus “good”) by making a statement designed to elicit praise from Jesus—praise that Jesus does not offer.
10:29 And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house: Jesus’ reference to leaving one’s “house” has the following possible referents:
- Leaving home in order to preach the gospel.
- Losing one’s home because of persecution.
- Selling one’s possessions to follow Jesus, as the rich man was invited to One weakness of this reading is that, as previous instances in Mark have shown (1:29; 3:9), the disciples still had access to their property even after leaving to follow Jesus.
- The inhabitants of one’s household who are left behind when one leaves to In this reading, the remainder of the verse would describe those left behind. (This structure would parallel the structure of the tenth commandment, which commands not coveting a neighbor’s house[hold] and then lists the occupants of it.) In this case, Jesus is not only requiring that they do not covet what belongs to other people but also that they freely give up what belongs to them.
or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s: The earliest manuscripts do not include the word “wife” in this verse; indeed, it would be surprising for Jesus to suggest that people leave their spouses in light of his teachings on divorce at the beginning of this chapter.
There may be some tension between the idea of leaving father and mother and of honoring them, a commandment that Jesus has recently mentioned. Perhaps the very reason that he referred to the fifth commandment—out of order, nonetheless—in 10:19 was to prepare for the statement here by indicating that the need to leave father and mother for the sake of the gospel did not negate the commandment to honor them. See also 7:10–13.
10:30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands: The terms in 10:29 were joined by the word “or” while those in this verse are joined by the word “and,” implying that if a disciple leaves behind but one item mentioned in 10:29, she or he will receive everything listed in this verse.
with persecutions: This phrase is quite a startling conclusion to the previous list of blessings. While 10:29 and 30 contain parallel (if not identical) lists, 10:29 ends with “for my sake, and the gospel’s” while 10:30 ends with “with persecution.” Thus Jesus clearly links following him to enduring persecution. Interestingly, this verse could be interpreted to say that persecution is a blessing and, in light of the obstacle which wealth was to the man asking about eternal life, this reading fits the context particularly well.
Relationship to Job. Job gives up all of his possessions and family relations and is persecuted but, at the end of his story, has everything returned to him doubled ( Job 42:10). If Jesus was alluding to Job’s story, then the point would be that the follower of Jesus has even more restored to him or her as persecutions are righteously endured.
and in the world to come eternal life: Here Jesus returns the conversation to the impetus for the scene—the question regarding eternal life. Jesus’ message is that the way to eternal life is through sacrifice. The wealthy man’s refusal to follow Jesus now appears all the more short-sighted in light of this teaching.
Jesus’ response to Peter, when taken in its entirety, emphasizes not eternal life but rather the blessings of gospel living during mortal life (namely, fellowship and hospitality).
10:31 But many that are first shall be last; and the last first: The word translated as “but” (Greek: de) could be an explanatory “for,” which would mean that this verse explains why the last verse is true.
This line links to the plight of the wealthy man, who in refusing to make himself last will have no chance to be first. But those, as Jesus has taught, who are willing to take last place will in fact end up being first.
This teaching serves as a warning to Peter who, as a leading disciple, is in spiritual danger, as his bragging about leaving everything to follow Jesus has indicated.
This passage contains the only reference to Jesus’ love for another in Mark’s Gospel; “While Jesus may be reciting the Decalogue, he is in fact practicing the ‘great commandment.’” On the one hand, Jesus loves this man despite his errors. On the other hand, this love does not stop Jesus from correcting him and encouraging him to change his behavior.
While the impulse to minimize Jesus’ teachings should generally be avoided, there is good reason to believe that the command to sell all was not meant to be a universal command but rather was unique to this man’s situation:
- Even after their call to follow Jesus, Peter still had a house and (presumably) James and John still had a boat—evidence that they, even as apostles, were not under a similar command.
- In chapter 6, the apostles were sent out as missionaries without provisions with the understanding that other people would provide for their needs— something that would have been impossible had everyone given away all of their Similarly, 10:29 pictures a situation where followers of Jesus pool their goods and share them, which would be impossible if everyone had sold everything.
- In 14:3–9, a woman spends a year’s wages on anointing oil for Observers object that the woman should have sold the ointment and given the proceeds to the poor, echoing the commandment here. And yet Jesus defends the woman’s actions, strongly suggesting that the counsel to sell all is not universal.
- The man approached Jesus with a personal question (“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”), not a general one (“What must one do?”), suggesting that Jesus’ answer would likewise be personal and not general.
Why was it necessary for this man to sell everything? Most likely because his wealth was not acquired legitimately; in fact, such a thing was generally not possible: “The only way someone became wealthy in Israelite society (as in any traditional agrarian society) was to take advantage of someone else who was vulnerable, to defraud others by charging interest on loans, which was forbidden in covenant law, and eventually gaining control of others’ possessions (labor, fields, households).” (Thus there are numerous protections built into the law of Moses to limit the concentration of wealth [Lev. 19:9–10; 25:8–55; Deut. 14:28–29; 15:1–11; 24:14–15; 24:19–22].)
This command to sell all is similar to the call stories in 1:16–20 and 3:14 because the man is being asked to leave his worldly goods. This is, in effect, a failed call story; contrast the next story, the healing of Bartimaeus, which has elements of a successful call story. It is painfully ironic that the only person who Jesus is said to love rejects Jesus’ call to follow him.
Mark withholds the detail that the man was rich until the end of the story; it is a common technique for Mark to delay crucial information in order to emphasize it and to heighten the suspense in the story (compare 5:42; 6:44; 15:41). The late placement of this detail also emphasizes Jesus’ prophetic ability since he presumably already knew about the man’s wealth. The great wealth explains the man’s refusal to follow Jesus; implicit is that the man’s love for his possessions contrasts with Jesus’ love for the man. But Jesus loved him even in his prideful ignorance. Leaving the detail about the man’s wealth out of the story permits the audience to share Jesus’ love for the man; had they known earlier that he was wealthy, it likely would have been impossible for them to love him. Oddly, a lack of information makes it easier for the audience to adopt Jesus’ perspective—a perspective that comes from an abundance of information (as Jesus’ command to the man to “defraud not” indicated).
In the HB, riches were usually regarded as a blessing from God or as evidence that one was blessed by God. Here, the riches are an obstacle to blessings; the man’s wealth keeps him from eternal life despite his explicit desire for it. Perhaps Mark has withheld the information about the man’s riches from the audience until the end of the story to suggest that one may not realize what an impediment wealth is to eternal life until it is, in effect, too late.
It is significant that this man is genuinely interested in eternal life and willing to be corrected by Jesus (in the matter of calling him “good”). That is, his questions are not like those in the controversy stories that are posed only in order to trick Jesus. The point is that even a fundamentally good person can be misled by an attachment to wealth. This story could have provided solace to the poor, who knew that this was not a temptation that they faced.
When Mark’s audience finds out about the man’s great wealth at the end of the story, they might wonder if he viewed eternal life as just another possession that he wanted to add to his collection; this would explain why he wasn’t willing to give up his other possessions in order to qualify for eternal life.
The reference to “hundredfold” links this teaching to the harvest from the good soil in the seed parable in chapter 4, particularly in light of the recent picture of the man whose attachment to riches choked the seed. It also suggests that this is not a promise of private, literal possession—a reading contradicted not only by common sense but also lived experience. Rather, the promise here is that the disciple will enjoy the fellowship and hospitality of the Christian community, which will include access to hundreds of houses to stay in and fellow followers of Jesus who will be, in effect, a new family (compare 3:31–35). This may also explain the lack of reference to spouses here, since a disciple would not treat all other Christians as a spouse. Given that family relationships in antiquity signified economic security as much as—if not more so—than they signified sentimentality, this is an important promise. Additionally, this passage is an important component of Jesus’ teachings on renunciation of property: “Jesus’ intention was not to call people into poverty but into community.” There are rewards—even immediate rewards—for following Jesus. At the same time, as the next phrase will indicate, those rewards will be accompanied by persecution.
The lack of reference to fathers in 10:30 is significant, particularly since fathers were mentioned in the previous verse (compare 3:31–35, which does not include fathers in the “new family” either). The omission may be due to the fact that the new community has but one father, the Father in Heaven. It may also stem from the reality that the outsized power that fathers had in the ancient world could not be appropriately exercised among Jesus’ followers (compare 10:43). Or, Jesus may be the unmentioned father, especially since he has taken on the role of father as the one who blesses children and since he has just referred to his audience as “children” (10:24; see also 2:5; 5:34). Jesus’ statement refutes Peter’s claim to have given up everything by showing that Peter has actually gained more than he forfeited.
 Metzger, Textual Commentary, 89.
 Joseph H. Hellerman, “Wealth and Sacrifice in Early Christianity: Revisiting Mark’s Presentation of Jesus’ Encounter with the Rich Young Ruler,” Trinity Journal, n.s., 21 (Fall 2000): 155.
 Michael Peppard, “Torah for the Man Who Has Everything: ‘Do Not Defraud’ in Mark 10:19,” Journal of Biblical Literature 134, no. 3 (2015): 604.
 Richard Hicks, “Markan Discipleship according to Malachi: The Significance of Me Aposterēsēs in the Story of the Rich Man (Mark 10:17–22),” Journal of Biblical Literature 132, no. 1 (2013): 182.
 Metzger, Textual Commentary, 89.
 Hicks, “Markan Discipleship,” 189.
 Hicks, “Markan Discipleship,” 190.
 Hicks, “Markan Discipleship,” 194.
 Metzger, Textual Commentary, 90.
 Metzger, Textual Commentary, 40.
 John A. Tvedtnes debunked the explanation that the “eye of the needle” was a gate to Jerusalem through which a camel could enter, but only on its knees, by explaining that a camel’s anatomy would not permit this. He suggested one of two possibilities for understanding this verse: either that the word originally used was “rope” or that this was “deliberate hyperbole,” which, he notes, was a characteristic of Jesus’ speaking style specifically and of his environment in general. He concludes that “all three possible explanations of Matthew 19:24—the gate, the rope, and the Jewish figure of speech—have been mentioned by prominent Latter-day Saint leaders. (See James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1973, pp. 485–6; Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–73, 1:556.) In any event, the idea is clear—riches can become a serious stumbling block to a person seeking eternal life.” John A. Tvedtnes, “I Have a Question,” Ensign 15 (March 1985): 29.
 Collins, Mark, 474 note f.
 Robert H. Gundry, “Mark 10:29: Order in the List,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 59, no. 3 (1997): 467.
 Bratcher and Nida, Translator’s Handbook, 326.
 Myers, Binding the Strong Man, 273.
 See the Notes on 1:19.
 Richard A. Horsley, Hearing the Whole Story: The Politics of Plot in Mark’s Gospel
(Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 191.
 Although note the countertradition: Jer. 9:22–23; Micah 2:1–2; and especially Amos 2:6–8.
 Steve Barr, “The Eye of the Needle—Power and Money in the New Community: A Look at Mark 10:17–31,” Andover Newton Review 3, no. 1 (1992): 42.